How to enable UWB on Android – and why you should (your car is one reason)

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Google Pixel 7 in Lemongrass color.

June Wan/ZDNET

Have you ever wanted to unlock your car with your phone? 

Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? Well, the future is upon us, thanks to UWB.

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UWB, which stands for ultra-wideband, is used as a short-range wireless communication protocol to track the location of objects, accurate to less than half an inch distance. The technology measures how long it takes short radio pulses to travel between one device and another. Originally, UWB was designed to transfer data, but its ability to track such precise positioning has made it quite useful for modern devices. 

One of the most widespread uses of UWB is Apple AirTags, and the technology is gaining steam. Another exciting use of UWB is unlocking cars and smart homes. A growing number of automakers are offering vehicles that work with UWB. (As of this writing, the list includes BMW, Audi, Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Genesis, Jeep, Kia, Mini, Lexus, Mercedes Benz, Ram, Porsche, Subaru, Rivian, Toyota, Volkswagon, and Hyundai.)  

Other UWB use cases include things like keyless entry for homes, manufacturing and logistics, sports, asset tracking, and more.

Both iOS and Android devices are capable of using UWB. However, the list of phones that work with UWB is surprisingly short and consists of the following models:

If you have one of the above phones, you can use UWB to unlock your car and do other nifty things. Of course, not every vehicle works with UWB. For instance, my Mini Cooper is too old and isn’t supported. My wife’s car, on the other hand, does work. 

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The good news is that UWB is catching on and you should expect more cars and more devices to support the technology. And because UWB is so accurate at pinpointing locations, you can be sure it will find even more use cases soon.

For example, with UWB enabled, cars will (eventually) be able to recognize your device as you get close enough to your phone and automatically unlock it for you. I would imagine that feature will put a damper on a lot of thriller movies and TV series where the bad guy abducts or assaults someone struggling to get their car unlocked.  

Note: Even if your phone is listed above, UWB might not be fully functional yet. For example, the Samsung S21 used to be listed, and UWB was found in Android settings. However, when you searched for UWB in the Settings app, it appeared but took you to the Connections page, where UWB was not listed. Over the past few months, Samsung has pulled UWB support from the S21 and rolled it out only to the S21+ and S21 Ultra.

Don’t see the UWB option available in a phone that is listed as supported? Hopefully, it will arrive eventually in an update.

The range of UWB looks something like this:

  • Range: 30-600 feet (10-200 meters)
  • Accuracy: 0.1−0.5 m (0.33−1.64 feet)

Not only does UWB have a good range, but it’s very accurate.

Also: 7 things you didn’t know your phone could do 

Although a small percentage of Android phones support UWB, you’ll want to know how to enable it (should your car support the feature). Let me show you how it’s done.

How to enable UWB on Android

What you’ll need: To enable UWB, you’ll need an Android device that supports the protocol. I’ll demonstrate this on my Pixel 7 Pro running Android 13. (Steps should be similar on other supported Android handsets.)

The first thing to do is open the Settings app. To do this, open your app drawer and locate and tap the Settings launcher.

From within the Settings app, tap Connected Devices, and then tap Connection Preferences.

The Connection Preferences listing on a Pixel 7 Pro with Android 13.

Accessing the UWB feature is found within Connection Preferences in Android 13.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

At the bottom of the Connection Preferences page, you’ll see the UWB entry. Tap the ON/OFF slider until it’s in the ON position to enable the feature.

The UWB toggle switch in Android 13.

Enabling UWB on a Pixel 7 Pro running Android 13.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

UWB is now enabled. 

If your car supports the protocol, you should now be able to set it up to automatically unlock as you come near the car. 

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One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you probably have to install an app for your car or set this feature up through your auto’s system. The process will vary from car to car, so check the manufacturer’s instructions on linking your phone and car together.

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